Plunge into steamy Slovakia

20. October 2007

The vision of an eccentric Czech-born millionaire has led to the creation of a resort that was last week named ‘the greenest on the planet.

THE water nymphs are the first thing to catch my eye. A striking painting on the wall of them frolicking holds my attention as I sit in a leather office chair on a bright morning in Slovakia.

At that moment the founder of AquaCity – Czech-born, Luton-based Jan Telensky – bursts in wearing a canary-yellow shirt. Gripping my hand and following my eyeline, Eastern Europe’s answer to Sir Alan Sugar says: “That’s by a Czech artist, Tylek. It’s worth £350,000. I have a whole set.”

Exiled from the former Czechoslovakia to the UK in 1969, where he started working on the Vauxhall assembly line at Luton, Telensky returned east to build a business empire after the 1989 Velvet Revolution signalled the end of communist rule in his homeland.

I’m here to soak up his flagship project, last week named the world’s leading green resort at the World Travel Awards. AquaCity is located at the foot of Slovakia’s snow-capped High Tatras Mountains, a four-hour train ride from the capital Bratislava, or a 10-minute transfer from low-key Poprad-Tatry airport.

The resort plans to be generating zero emissions within a year and shares its wealth of natural resources with the 55,000 residents of the nearby town of Poprad, offering cheap power to many of the homes and industries.The sprawling resort, comprising a water park, spa, two hotels and conference centre – all connected by glass lifts and airy corridors – lives up to its green credentials in its use of alternative energy sources. Geothermal spring water, drilled from a vast subterranean lake and harnessed by heat exchangers, powered by solar power and wind turbines, heats the resort’s hotels, spa and water park, and supplies up to 80 per cent of the total electricity. By avoiding fossil fuels, the resort saves 27 tons of carbon emissions per day.
But on checking in, AquaCity doesn’t feel like a tree-hugging retreat. It’s light, airy and modern – a theme that continues in my simple but comfortable three-star room and in the glass-fronted restaurant. Overall it looks like a modern chain hotel – not flash but clean, well run and family friendly, similar to a hot springs resort in Iceland or a water park in Germany.“The biggest issue over the next 10 years will be the cost of water and energy. Here I have both for free,” explains Telensky, who has invested £40million in the resort since the 2005 opening. “I’m not a chemist, I knew nothing about hotels and I wasn’t an expert on the environment,” he adds. “Eight years ago I simply realised that green was the way forward.”
With an Olympic pool and water park – boasting a series of indoor and outdoor dipping pools, a floating bar, and a health spa – the resort currently attracts 1.2million visitors a year. The majority come from Central Europe but there’s also a growing influx of Brits, thanks to direct flights from Stansted by Bratislava-based airline SkyEurope. The latest addition is Relax, a solar-powered swimming pool complex of geothermal-heated water, enriched with magnesium and calcium.Over in the Vital World spa, I skip from the Celtic sauna (herbal) to the ice room (chilly) and then to the massage room for 30 minutes of gentle pummeling. I emerge feeling completely de-stressed. Not bad for £10. But most of all, I feel smugly guilt free that my weekend break is not only not harming the environment but actually offsetting the carbon emissions from my flight.
Telensky’s expansion plans continue apace; he intends to add an organic farm, located three miles from the resort, to yield produce for use in the restaurants and harness the methane produced from the livestock to generate power.“Once this project makes me a billionaire, I’ll sell my expertise to show others how to do it,” says Telensky. “AquaCity could make Slovakia the No 1 green destination in the world.”http://www.express.co.uk/travel/articles/22636/Plunge-into-steamy-Slovakia